Dealing With Holiday Stress That Can Lead to Overeating

Close up of hands taking turkey and cutting food.
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When the holidays are over, you may find yourself searching for your most forgiving clothes as your body deals with the effects of a little too much food. Then there's the guilt — that mental wince when you remember that extra piece of pie or that giant glass of eggnog you wish you could take back in the cold light of day. Unfortunately, there's no way to un-eat what you ate, but you can do some damage control and get back on track for the new year, and you can do it without punishing yourself.

Why We Tend to Overeat and Feel Burnout During the Holiday Season

One reason we overindulge this time of year is stress. The holidays can send stress levels skyrocketing. Stress in itself can lead to other unhealthful eating patterns, further impacting the holiday season weight gain.

"Too many activities, even if they are fun activities like baking, shopping and partying, can culminate into too much holiday stress and leave us feeling frazzled rather than fulfilled."

Holidays often force us into too much of everything: Too much eating, drinking, shopping and even too much togetherness with family members, which can lead to burnout and stress.

Just a few things you may experience after a holiday include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression
  • Bloating or fatigue from too much fat or sugar
  • Guilt from eating too much

Tips for Dealing With Holiday Stress and Overeating

Rather than let these feelings take over, use these ideas to deal with that stress.

Get Moving

It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but getting the blood flowing is the perfect remedy for a food hangover. Think simple — walking, light strength training, or yoga. Even a few minutes can boost your mood and energy levels. Aim for 30 minutes per day. This can be broken up throughout the day and can include a walk after eating a meal. You can even use post-meal walking as an indicator of whether or not you have eaten too much. If you're too full to walk then you have eaten too much.


That bloating you're experiencing could be due to an overload of salt, which can cause water retention. Many holiday favorites contain way more sodium than the body needs, so drinking extra water can help you get rid of the extra bloat.

Eat Light and Healthy

After eating too much, you may be tempted to declare, "I'll never eat again!" You may also be amazed that you're actually hungry after all that eating. Starving yourself, however, isn't the answer. Nibble on light fare, such as salad, soup, and fruit to give your body nutrients without overloading it with calories. Consider these potentially lighter caloric foods before eating the more hearty items such as mashed potatoes, turkey, and ham to decrease the overall caloric intake.

Make a Plan

One of the worst side effects of eating too much is the guilt that comes after. Guilt is sometimes inevitable, but you can use that feeling to motivate you into something better. Make a plan for the next few days for how you'll get back on track with exercise and healthy eating habits. Just the act of planning can make you feel better...just make sure you follow through. Some planning can include permitting yourself to eat a little more on your planned holiday gatherings, using a smaller plate, reviewing your portion sizes, having someone be accountable for you, or have someone make your meal with a small plate.

Forgive Yourself

Guilt is only useful if it pushes you into better behavior. Once it's done that, there's no need to dwell on it. Remind yourself that the one-holiday meal isn't going to ruin everything, especially if you get right back to your usual healthy habits. The extra stress surrounding your eating can hamper your overall relationship with food and may have longer-term negative effects. Give yourself permission to indulge, especially if it is once per year for you.

Plan for the Future

Last, take some time to think about the mistakes you made this season and what you can do to avoid those same mistakes in the future. Doing this can also help you make good choices more consistently so that overindulgence isn't a frequent problem.

We all overindulge from time to time and, during the holidays, it's easy to get derailed from our healthy habits. Getting back on track right away is one of the best ways to deal with the stress and anxiety that comes from overindulgence. Each healthy choice you make is a reminder of your commitment to being healthy and fit all year-round.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."